What is Action Research and Development?
AR&D is a co-operative structure for school improvement that grows from respect for the knowledge and experience of local educators. Working together, teachers and administrators gather useful information on current practices, then develop and implement plans for professional development and school improvement based on the results. With AR&D, educators learn to identify the strengths and weaknesses of local programs, engage in on-going formal inquiry and discussion about avenues for improvement, and adjust their activities in light of feedback obtained. Rather than relying on the abstract theories of outside experts, teachers and administrators work cooperatively to craft solutions that will work in their own environment. The assumption behind AR&D? That local educators, not outside experts, are professionals: they know best about where and how to improve their schools.
How does AR&D fit with Understanding by Design® (UbD™)?
UbD™ provides the model for the "development" component AR&D. We begin with a view toward the desired results (what do we want to accomplish?), establish benchmarks for discerning achievement of these results (what will the evidence of our success look like?), then create an action plan for implementing that plan (how will we achieve the goals that we have identified?). Like UbD™, AR&D focuses on results, rather than intentions.
Why should you make a long-term commitment to AR&D?
Action Research and Development empowers faculties to identify problems and shape solutions. Externally-imposed reforms often fail to respect the local context, bypassing the valuable contributions that teachers and administrators can offer and relying, instead, on "one size fits all" solutions. By placing teachers and administrators at the center of all efforts, this fatal flaw is eliminated. Instead of re-design becoming "yet another" add-on obligation for everyone, AR&D becomes an energizing, goal-focusing, and team-oriented approach to school improvement based on individual perceptions and shared vision. On-going AR&D leads to an improved ability to identify and clarify local needs, a culture of collaborative problem-solving, and the creation of an ever-growing bank of solutions and ideas.
How can Authentic Education help? Authentic Education can help you to:
- ask (and keep alive) the important questions
- begin and nurture thoughtful dialogue among colleagues
- structure those questions in ways that will enable you to draw useful conclusions
- analyze the data you collect
- structure a plan for improvement, based on the data you collect
- assist you in revising your plan, in light of the feedback you receive
- connect you with the experiences of other schools that have undertaken similar projects
- maintain your emphasis on desired results, rather than on inputs
- evaluate your success in reaching the desired goals
- redirect your energies, if improvement is slow in coming
AR&D in Action
AR&D can be undertaken by one faculty team, many teams, or the entire faculty, simultaneously or in sequence, throughout the school year. Regardless of the number of staff involved, we suggest that a school/district conduct AR&D in four distinct areas of schooling:
- the quality of teacher curriculum designs (units of study, including assessments),
- the quality of feedback to students, school, and district (teacher scoring/grading/comments and other forms of feedback & guidance) aimed at improving performance,
- the quality of performance results (results determined by credible assessments on both internal and external assessments), and
- the effectiveness of local adjustments based on results (the ways teacher and administrative structures, policies and actions respond to knowledge gained through a review of results)
Examples of such AR&D work include:
- Designing and refining model curricular units. Review existing designs against standards, refine designs, teach new units, peer review, and further refine designs.
- Designing and refining sets of scoring rubrics and exemplars. Draft rubrics against teaching goals, apply those rubrics to student work, peer review student grades against goals, and revise rubrics to better engender desired results.
- Experimenting with new and promising teaching methods/approaches, as identified and prioritized by the entire faculty; gauge effectiveness by agreed-upon measures (informal and formal).
- Analyzing local curriculum. Assess local curriculum designs against design standards; recommend professional development strategies, design targets, and policy changes.
- Mapping the "taught curriculum," then creating a UbD™ Curriculum Map. Collect all lesson plans, assignments, and assessments; analyze the degree of alignment with content standards, curriculum frameworks, and course syllabi; make recommendations for more coherent curriculum. In a revised map, include Understandings, Essential Questions, and Core Performance tasks tied to state/district content standards. Review the new map cooperatively, working toward identified goals.
- Analyzing scoring/grading. Assess scoring/grading to identify the degree of consistency; compare local grading standards to credible state and national performance standards (e.g. state-wide writing, Advanced Placement, college freshman exam scoring); revise the grading protocol to reflect lessons learned.
- Analyzing performance results. Twice per year, review performance in key areas (student work, test results, teacher-designed units; conduct item/task analysis to identify key areas of weakness; set goals and develop strategies for improvement.
- Surveying students. Collect data (pre/post) from students on what is engaging/effective work, the clarity of standards and expectations, fairness, and challenge. Address lessons learned through the review of units, curriculum, grading/scoring, and/or approaches to teaching.
- Surveying constituencies. Collect data from parents, the next level of schooling, alumni, and/or local employers about the strengths and weaknesses of former students. Use collected information to draft a plan for improvement.